Cover image for Pushkin's button
Pushkin's button
Vitale, Serena.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Bottone di Puškin. English
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1999]

Physical Description:
355 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PG3350.5.D4 V5813 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Pushkin's Button is an astonishing tour de force, a riveting narrative about the four months of Pushkin's life leading up to his death on January 27, 1837. At the same time, the book is an astute, original assessment of Pushkin's literary and national importance, a luminous homage to a tragic genius that sparkles with Pushkin's own genial wit. The rich international -- yet very Russian -- world of St. Petersburg in the 1830s comes wonderfully to life, with its imperial balls, political and literary gossip, and beautiful women -- notable among them Natalya Pushkin, the poet's wife. Serena Vitale adds yet another level to the narrative with absorbing references to her own archival detective work and exciting discoveries.

Author Notes

Serena Vitale is a professor of Russian language and literature at the Catholic University of Milano, Italy

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Vitale's reconstruction of Alexander Pushkin's 1837 dueling death‘the poet had employed the most provocative terms in accusing an insolent French officer of dallying with his wife‘brings to life the vulgar yet aristocratic milieu of St. Petersburg, not the Russian literary giant himself. In this titillating, lurid recounting, the capital of the czarist state is riven by secrets and intrigues, amused by slander and scandal, and sustained by undeserved status and unearned wealth. Everyone writes malicious, tattling letters, no one throws any of them away, and Nicholas I's Third Section reads every one. In Pushkin's last months he was desperate for funds and maddened by the feud over his young, frivolous and beautiful wife. Vitale draws her evocation of this time largely from tale-bearing correspondence written or received by both the poet's eventual killer, the apparently bisexual Georges d'Anthès, and the homosexual Dutch ambassador Jacob van Heeckeren, who, doting on d'Anthes, went so far as to adopt him. In this tale, told as a mystery unfolding from contemporary records, Vitale (an Italian scholar of Russian literature) spares no trivia about the "narrow-minded province of gossips, vultures, [and] voyeurs, whose unyielding, deadly rituals Pushkin not only declined to shun but actively, zealously, took part in." If her prose purples, at least as rendered in this translation, it seems utterly appropriate to the gaudy salon setting and to Pushkin's yet tawdry demise. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Alexander Pushkin, a descendant of Hannibal of Carthage, was Russia's greatest poet. He was also married to the most beautiful woman in St. Petersburg, who attracted the attention and admiration of many men in Russian society, notably one Georges D'Anthes. D'Anthes had been adopted by the Dutch ambassador, Baron von Heerecken, and was a chevalier de garde for Tsar Nicholas I. Vitale (Russian literature, Univ. of Pavia, Italy) presents a marvelous biographical mystery in which she explores the events leading to the duel between Pushkin and D'Anthes. Through letters, the reader gets an intimate view of the personalities and passions of early 19th-century Russia. Vitale sheds new light on the causes of the duel and makes the story accessible to 20th-century readers. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄAnn Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Silver Spring, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
1. Dispatches from St. Petersburgp. 3
2. The Chouanp. 7
3. Those Fateful Flannel Undershirtsp. 21
4. Herring and Caviarp. 39
5. The Heights of Zionp. 50
6. Pushkin's Buttonp. 75
7. The Anonymous Lettersp. 108
8. Suspectsp. 127
9. Twelve Sleepless Nightsp. 149
10. Remembrancep. 174
11. The Deleted Linesp. 175
12. The Bold Pedicuristp. 206
13. Table Talkp. 235
14. The Man for Whom We Were Silentp. 241
15. The Ambassador's Snuffboxp. 255
16. One Summer in Baden-Badenp. 282
Epiloguep. 285
Sourcesp. 291
Notesp. 295
Index of Namesp. 329